Indeed, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), second son of Johann Sebastian, was both revered and criticized by his contemporaries for his bold departures from conventional modes of musical expression. During his years as ‘first harpsichordist’ at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and later as music director of the principal churches in Hamburg, Bach perfected a highly original and intensely personal compositional style known as the empfindsamer Stil (literally, the ‘sensitive style’). Bach’s approach to musical expressiveness found voice in frequent mood changes, wide melodic leaps, abundant rests and ‘sighing’ motifs, irregular phrase structures, the juxtaposition of contrasting rhythmic figures, deceptive cadences, and dramatic, rhetorical harmonic interjections. Bach became particularly renowned for his ability to improvise fantasias—seemingly free-form, stream-of-consciousness flights of fancy characterized by unmeasured rhythm and distant harmonic excursions. Yet underlying even the most improvisatory of his compositions is a coherent structure. Bach himself instructed his students to construct such fantasias by first devising a strict harmonic foundation, and he even published an analysis of one of his own pieces in which he presented the skeletal framework lying beneath its surface irregularity.
Emanuel Bach’s music thus breaks dramatically away from, yet also builds upon, the early eighteenth-century style perfected by his father. His compositions mark one of the first—and among the most inspired—repudiations of the Baroque aesthetic, in which a single unified mood dominates each movement. Significantly, however, Bach does not simply contrast two emotional states, as is typical in later Classical works, but rather explores a multitude of affects juxtaposed in close proximity and often set off by rests or dynamic changes. In fact, CPE Bach not only set in motion many of the changes that would become manifest in the music of Haydn and Beethoven, but also looked beyond the Classical period to many of the ideals of the nineteenth century.
from notes by Leta Miller © 2010